The Holy Quran by Ibn al-Bawwāb



  Historical references yield little information of the life of Abūl-Hasan Alī bin-Hilāl, better known as Ibn al-Bawwāb. No account is given to name the date and place of his birth, however, he spent the majority of his life in Baghdad, where he died in 413H./1022AD and was buried near the tomb of Ibn Hanbal. He was designated as Ibn al-Bawwāb [Son of the Doorkeeper] since his father worked as a doorkeeper. He was also known as Ibn al-Sitrī, which has the same connotation. At the beginning of his career, Ibn al-Bawwāb worked in decorating houses, then in illuminating manuscripts, and finally he specialized in the art of calligraphy. He mastered this art to the extent that he surpassed all his predecessors and confounded all those who came after him. In addition, he used to preach in the Mosque of al-Mansūr in Baghdad. It is said that he became one of the intimates of the vizier Fakhr al-Mulk when he assumed the governorship of the city during the reign of the Buwayhids.

  Ibn al-Bawwābs wide fame came from his greatest achievement; the perfection of the style of writing introduced, nearly a century earlier, by the celebrated vizier and calligrapher Ibn Muqla. The latter was thrice a vizier of the Abbasid caliphs. It is said that the Caliph al-Rādī was angry at him that he ordered his hand to be cut off. Undaunted by the mutilation, Ibn Muqla tied a calamus to his forearm and devised a new method of writing that was later developed and mastered by Ibn al-Bawwāb; the Mansub [proportioned] script. It remained the most fashionable, celebrated, incontestably script in use for two successive centuries until the introduction of Yāqūts style.

  Ibn al-Bawwāb received his training under Muhammad al-Simsimanī and Muhammad bin-Asad. In another account, he acquired his knowledge of calligraphy from Ibn Muqlas daughter. It is said that he made 1.001 copies of the Quran! A figure that is evidently fanciful. Indeed, in world libraries today exist hosts of manuscripts ascribed to him but many have proved spurious.

  The manuscript displayed here is the Chester Beatty MS. K. 16 is a small volume of 286 folios measuring 17.5 13.5 cm. The written surface measures 13.5 9.0 cm. And there are 15 lines in each page. The colophon indicates that it was written by Alī bin-Hilāl in Baghdad in 391H./1000-1AD.

  The paper of the manuscript is of a medium sickness and firm. In the course of time, it has acquired a mellow brown tint which is characteristic of manuscripts of that period. The dark brown ink has produced  halos round the script in the places where it has infiltrated along the tissue.

 Special attention is given by Ibn al-Bawwāb to the illumination of the opening page of the Divine book, however, there is not yet an attempt to produce carpet-like patterns which, from the third decade of the eleventh century onwards, cover he whole marginal surfaces in the opening pages of the Quranic manuscripts. The marginal sura-palmettes on this page are more compact and more carefully executed but also more subdued in coloring.   

  The genuineness of the Chester Beatty manuscript is not in doubt. The format of the volume, the paper  and ink correspond to what is known of manuscripts of similar age. While there are no other examples of this manuscript, it tallies with the descriptions given by Muslims writers.

 The Chester Beatty codexs historical and artisitic significance lies in being the earliest known Quran in Naskh script and the only surviving work of the great calligrapher and illuminator Ibn al-Bawwāb. Moreover, it is the only fully illuminated manuscript of the Buwayhid period.


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